Comma With Prepositional Phrases – Rules & Practice

11.05.24 Commas Time to read: 6min

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Commas are crucial in academic writing to keep things simple and organized, and make it easier to comprehend. Experiencing difficulties understanding comma rules is a frequently occurring problem among students as a result of the lack of detailed knowledge and quantity of comma rules. In this article, we’ll provide examples and a practice sheet, and explain if you should be using a comma with prepositional phrases.

When to place a comma with prepositional phrases

A prepositional phrase is a group of words that begins with a preposition and ends with a noun or pronoun, called the object of the preposition. Prepositional phrases function not only as adjectives, but also as adverbs in a sentence, providing additional information about nouns, pronouns, verbs, or other parts of a sentence.

They can be placed in various positions within a sentence, e.g., as an introductory phrase. However, it is essential to ensure that their placement does not cause confusion or ambiguity regarding the intended meaning. Therefore, writers should consider the clarity and coherence of their sentences when deciding where to place prepositional phrases.

Comma

Introductory phrases

Additional information

Verb as an object

No Comma

Short phrases

Essential phrase

 

Different Style Guides may have different rules regarding commas. Hence, it is necessary to consistently review the guidelines for the Style Guide to maintain consistency in your paper. Consider whether a sentence is more understandable with or without a comma and conveys the correct message.

Comma with prepositional phrases

There are three comma rules, for which you need commas when using prepositional phrases: when it is used as an introductory phrase, when it adds additional, yet unessential information, and when the verb is the object of a sentence, acting as a noun. Each rule will be elaborated upon in the following paragraphs, accompanied by illustrative examples.

Introductory phrases

At the beginning of a sentence, introductory phrases (or adverb phrases) are usually separated from the sentence by a comma, especially if there is an obvious pause. If the introductory phrase is short, a comma is optional, but not necessary.

Examples

  • In the evening(,) we went to our favorite restaurant.
  • After eating a whole pizza yesterday, I got very tired.
  • Without thinking twice that night, she jumped into the icy water.

Additional information

When the prepositional phrase can be removed from the sentence without changing the essential meaning, commas are not required. This is usually the case when it is placed in the middle of a sentence to provide non-essential information about something or someone.

Examples

  • John, from a small town in Canada, is visiting us next week.
  • The cat, with its tail held high, strutted confidently across the room.
  • The team, after a long day of practice, celebrated their victory with a pizza party.

Verb as an object

When the object of a prepositional phrase is a verb that acts as a noun, also called a gerund, a comma is essential. Otherwise, the whole sentence can be misunderstood in certain cases.

Examples

  • After cooking, my brother watched a movie.
  • While eating, his mother choked on a piece of broccoli.
  • By practicing regularly, they improved their skills significantly.

No comma with “prepositional phrases”

There are two cases for when a comma with prepositional phrases is not necessary; the first is when the phrase is very short, and the second is when it is essential to the whole phrase. Both cases will be explained below.

Short phrases

Generally, using commas after introductory prepositional phrases depends on the number of words in the phrase. If it contains fewer than four words, a comma is not necessary, but optional.

Examples

  • In the morning(,) I drank half a bottle of water.
  • By five(,) I was already on the way home.
  • After lunch(,) he enjoyed a refreshing walk in the park.

Essential phrase

Do not use commas with prepositional phrases essential to the sentence’s meaning. These phrases are also called restrictive phrases, and provide crucial information that is necessary for understanding the sentence, therefore don’t have commas around them.

Examples

  • The house on the corner is for sale.
  • The woman in the light blue dress is my sister.
  • The keys in the drawer are for the front door.

Test yourself!

Practice sheet

Take this test to check your knowledge of using commas with prepositional phrases. The correct solutions can be found in the second tab.

  1. With great determination she tackled the challenging task ahead.
  2. During the concert she captured stunning photographs of the performers.
  3. The chef in the middle of cooking dinner realized she had run out of ingredients.
  4. The chair in the kitchen is broken.
  5. The artist with a brush in hand added the final touches to his work.
  6. He plays basketball in the park every Sunday.
  7. The book on the shelf fell to the floor.
  8. On the fifth day before Christmas we bought presents.
  9. Across the river the old bridge spans the gap.
  10. On a cold winter’s night the family gathered around the fireplace.
  1. With great determination, she tackled the challenging task ahead. (Comma)
  2. During the concert, she captured stunning photographs of the performers. (Comma)
  3. The chef, in the middle of cooking dinner, realized she had run out of ingredients. (Comma)
  4. The chair in the kitchen is broken. (No comma, essential)
  5. The artist, with a brush in hand, added the final touches to his work. (Comma)
  6. He plays basketball in the park every Sunday. (No comma, essential)
  7. The book on the shelf fell to the floor. (No comma, essential)
  8. On the fifth day before Christmas, we bought presents. (Comma)
  9. Across the river, the old bridge spans the gap. (Comma)
  10. On a cold winter’s night, the family gathered around the fireplace. (Comma)
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FAQs

  • After the concert, she went out for dinner.
  • In the middle of the storm, the ship struggled to stay afloat.
  • With a heavy heart, he said his goodbyes.

In English grammar, when a prepositional phrase is used at the beginning of a sentence as an introductory phrase, it is followed by a comma to indicate a pause, or to separate two clauses.

Example

  • After having fun at the concert, she went out for dinner.

 

However, if the prepositional phrase appears after the main clause, it does not typically require a comma, unless it is essential for clarity or emphasis.

Example

  • She went out for dinner after having fun at the concert.

Yes, you generally use a comma after each introductory prepositional phrase, even if there are two or more of them. Each prepositional phrase sets the context or provides additional information for the main clause, so they are separated by commas to indicate their individuality and to help clarify the structure of the sentence.

Examples

  • After the concert, during the intermission, she went out for dinner.
  • In the middle of the storm, amidst the chaos, the ship struggled to stay afloat.
  • From the top of the hill, the view was breathtaking.
  • During the holidays, they visited family and friends.
  • In the early morning, before the sun rose, the birds began to sing.
  • Under the bright moonlight, amidst the rustling leaves, the travelers wandered through the forest.
  • In the depths of winter, the lake freezes over completely.